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February 12, 2014

The Rice Bomber (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 7:05 pm

The Rice Bomber

FEBRUARY 11, 2014
Maggie Lee

An intrinsically fascinating true story of a Taiwanese ecological activist prevails over director Cho Li’s dry but well-meaning narrative approach.

Like wet dynamite, “The Rice Bomber” has trouble achieving the desired explosive momentum with its potentially incendiary history of Taiwan’s downtrodden farmers. Recounting the early life of ecological activist Yang Rumen, who went to jail for 17 bombing incidents staged to draw public attention to unfair agrarian policies, helmer Cho Li’s well-meaning attempt to provide a comprehensive picture results in a preachy first hour and a dearth of cinematic visuals. Fortunately for audiences, the intrinsically fascinating material on Yang trumps the dry narrative style, and he emerges as an extraordinary figure — romantic but eccentric, desperate yet driven. The film’s socially conscious message will find sympathy among indie fests and on educational channels.

The film is based on Yang’s book “White Rice Is Not a Bomb,” and the narrative is up to its ears in voiceover, quoting wordy excerpts of his ideals and philosophies. It also assumes considerable knowledge on the audience’s part about Taiwan politics, both regional and international, as evidenced by a bomb detonation in the opening scene for which no context is provided until more than an hour into the film.

Yang’s story proper starts in 1988, when he and mentally challenged brother Cai are just unruly tykes being raised in Erlin Town, Changhua County, by their peasant grandparents; already farmers are clashing with the government over produce prices. A quick jump forward in time sees Yang (Huang Chien-wei) fulfilling his military service, revealing his rebellious nature when he’s hazed by other cadets and impetuously retaliates.

In 2001, Yang is discharged and returns to Changhua, where the government is buying up farmland and building factories. Persuaded by his grandparents to give up their ancestral vocation, the young idler re-encounters a childhood friend, known only as “Troublemaker” (Nikki Hsieh), and they embark on a long, bumpy romance. The daughter of shifty legislator Hong Jung (Hsu Chia-jung), she calls herself a revolutionary and flirts with suicide while living off Daddy’s deep pockets. Yang, on the other hand, ekes out a living as a seaside fruit vendor. The film could have made more of their class differences, though a more glaring flaw is that it takes ages for them to develop any basic chemistry.

There follows a combination of factors, public and personal, that cause Yang’s social indignation to escalate, including his friendship with a teenager (Yang Peng-yu) abandoned by parents and society; Taiwan’s entry into the WTO, opening the floodgates for imported produce; and the gradual proliferation of factories, leading to fatal accidents. Cho’s documentary-like technique and reliance on expository news footage reflects a certain high-mindedness and avoidance of sensationalism, but it also squanders the picture’s dramatic potential.

The turning point in Yang’s life arrives more than an hour into the film, when he starts planting DIY bombs made with field ingredients in public places, accompanied by a protest message. Although re-creating so many of his protest antics doesn’t help advance the plot, his methods are so eccentric and audacious that they’re a delight to watch, and finally it becomes clear that every struggle or endeavor in his adult life has been building toward this mission.

Veteran thesp and acting instructor Huang (“Yang Yang”) limns Yang’s shifting moods and intellectual growth with intuitive directness. Hsieh (“Makeup,” “Honey Pu Pu”) doesn’t get enough room to expand on a character who’s not particularly likable or sharply defined; only the scenes of ideological clash between her and her father allow her to express her fiery nature.

Cho, who has longtime experience as a producer, ensures that craft contributions are all solid. Korean lenser Cho Yong-kyo delivers some breathtaking compositions of rice fields and wetlands, and a melodious score by Iranian composer Peyman Yazdanian (“The Wind Will Carry Us,” “Summer Palace,” “Buddha Mountain”) adds warmth and emotional heft to even the flatter scenes.

Berlin Film Review: ‘The Rice Bomber’
Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 6, 2013. Running time: 117 MIN. Original title: “Baimi zhadan ke”

(Taiwan) A Warner Bros. release of a 1 Prod. Film Co., Taipei Postproduction, Arrow Cinema Group, Ocean Deep Films presentation of an Ocean Deep Films production. (International sales: Ablaze Image, Taipei.) Produced by Li Lieh, Yeh Ju-fen.

Directed by Cho Li. Screenplay, Hung Hung, Zin Do-lan based on the book “White Rice Is Not a Bomb” by Yang Rumen. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Cho Yong-kyou; editors, Qin Mai-song, Liao Ching-sung; music, Peyman Yazdanian; production designer, Lee Tian-yue; set decorator, Chen Yi-ching; costume designer, Wei Hsiang-jung; sound (Dolby Digital), Sunit Asvinkul, Frank Cheng; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Frank Cheng; visual effects supervisor, Linus Cheng; visual effects, Taipei Postproduction; associate producer, Lin Hsiao-ching; assistant director, Lu Keng-hsien; second unit camera, Pei Ji-wei; casting, Shirley Chen.

Huang Chien-wei, Nikki Hsieh, Michael Chang, Hsu Chia-jung, Yang Peng-yu. (Mandarin, Taiwanese dialogue)

The Rice Bomber (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 2:15 pm

The Rice Bomber
2/10/2014 by Elizabeth Kerr

The Bottom Line
Polished but strangely distant drama that has its heart in the right place.

Producer Cho Li’s third directorial effort chronicles the exploits of a Taiwanese farming hero.

With every renaissance comes the one piece that bucks the system, and in the case of Taiwan’s recent surge it’s Cho Li’s The Rice Bomber, a polished and earnest quasi-docudrama based on the exploits of early-00s agricultural activist Yang Rumen. With our collective good supply a hot topic on both consumer and documentary filmmaking (Food Inc., Farmageddon, The Harvest) fronts, the subject matter ensures a fair amount of attention for Yang’s admittedly compelling story. However, the sum doesn’t quite add up to the parts, as The Rice Bomber flits between tones and never generates the sense of urgency it should. That said the film’s combination of strong production value, timeliness and refreshing subject matter from Taiwan (no lovelorn teens with sexual identity crises or mopey existential angst) should give it a healthy life on the festival circuit.

Set during an economically turbulent period in Taiwan’s recent history, the film follows the small town boy from his life on a rice farm in the central Changhua region, to the military service that taught his the tricks of his trade and finally to full blown agitator trying to bring attention to the plight of the island’s farmers. As Taiwan enters the WTO and struggles beneath the burden of a newly globalized food supply, Yang Rumen (Huang Chien-Wei) transforms into an advocate for local farmers. Progressing from letters to the editor, to petitions at government agencies and finally his renowned rice bombs, Rumen (in reality now a major proponent and practitioner of organic farming after 7 years in prison) doesn’t want to hurt anybody, one of the reasons his 17 bombs (which spray rice like buckshot) are planted in reasonably empty spots. That’s not the case of his like-minded friend Troublemaker (Nikki Hsieh), a rich gangster’s daughter who prefers more militant action.

One of the oddities of Bomber is the tonal shifting that frequently stalls its momentum—narrative, emotional or otherwise. Cho inserts news footage to mark important agricultural milestones that are less elucidating than slightly jarring given the frequently sharp visuals and carefully tempered and understated scenes that precede them. In addition, Cho slips into the fantastical when Rumen chats with an imaginary friend, and raises questions as to whether Troublemaker is even real. Cap that off with a few too many montage sequences set to Peyman Yazdanian’s borderline bombastic score and Bomber’s oddly disconnected, unengaging vibe that makes connecting to the situation more cerebral than visceral, and the result is an ambitious statement film that clears its throat and taps you on the shoulder rather than hollers. With the exception of the music, of course.

Regardless the film’s minor flaws, which are wholly subjective, The Rice Bomber is producer Cho’s most accomplished film as a director, and she is clearly committed to the material. And fortunately cinematographer Cho Yong-Kyou comes to the rescue on more than one occasion, capturing the Taiwanese countryside with its bright blue sky and vibrant green fields in a classically unfussy way, making the contrasting dusty brown of the same fields (at the behest of new government policy) quietly heartbreaking—which is the only time the film really gets to hollering.

Producer Lee Lieh, Yeh Jufeng
Director Cho Li
Cast Huang Chien-Wei, Nikki Hsieh, Michael Chang
Screenwriter Hung Hung, Zin Do-Lan
Director of Photography Cho Yong-Kyou
Production Designer Lee Tian-jue
Music Peyman Yazdanian
Costume designer Wei Hsiang-Jung
Editor Qin Mai-Song, Liao Ching-Sung
No rating, 117 minutes


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